After a huge public outcry the lease agreement of Tosamaidan Field Firing Range (TFFR) in Budgam district was not extended beyond 2014.
Tosamaidan remained in news for almost two years right from 2012 onwards. It was a big success for the locals when Army was not given permission to continue with its firing practices in the area.
From last two years the firing drills have not been undertaken in the area, but the victims who got killed or permanently disable during last several years are still waiting for justice.
They neither have been adequately compensated nor have the authorities initiated any legal proceedings against Army in all such cases. From 1962 onwards people living in almost 10 to 12 villages located under the foothills of Tosamaidan have suffered tremendously as the unexploded shells kept killing and maiming people. We must agree that many people got killed or seriously injured when they were trying to collect the ammunition scrap lying scattered in Tosamaidan meadow but there are more than two dozen cases wherein the unexploded shells killed people or injured them seriously in villages itself. One such fresh case dates back to May 19th 2014.
Simran dies, Fayaz is handicapped
People in Drang , Lassipora , Habbar , Shonglipora , Sugen , Kokerbagh , Tchill , Brass , KhaiPura, KangriPora, Lachman Poraand and its adjoining areas were celebrating their victory as the lease agreement for Tosaaidan Field Firing Range (TFFR) between J&K Government and Army was not extended beyond year 2014. When the Army's first Artillery unit that used to come to Drang village in April didn't turn up until May, it was only then clear that lease agreement had not been extended. During these celebrations a huge tragedy occurred in Lassipora village where a little girl namely Simran, aged 6 years, got killed while fiddling with a leftover unexploded mortar shell. On May 19th 2014, Simran along with her younger brother Fayaz, 4, were playing outside their house when they found a live shell. They tried to catch hold of it. The shell exploded leaving Simran dead and her brother, Fayaz, seriously injured. Later, both the lower limbs of Fayaz were amputated during a major surgery at Army's base hospital in Srinagar.
Mortar shells in villages
During firing practices the Army used to get heavy Artillery guns which included Bofors Howitzers with them. These guns were usually stationed at Drang and Tchill villages, where from they used to fire heavy shells towards Tosamaidan meadow which is located at approximately at an aerial distance of 5 to 7 kms from these villages. Small artillery and mortar guns were supposed to be carried up towards Tosamaidan meadow where the firing practice was done by the concerned Army units. Simran's father Riyaz Ahmad Parray told me that Artillery unit used to fire small mortar shells from village itself which otherwise is not allowed. As these guns have little range, some shells that remained unexploded, were left over around Drang village. In addition to it several shells used to be buried inside the soil in pits by soldiers. "Due to heavy rainfall and gushing water coming down from Tosamaidan hills, these shells sometimes came out as well," said another local Farooq Ahmad. Pertinently Army during these firing practices destroys ammunition (bofors shells, bombs , mortars ) which are near to expiry date.
Compensation not paid
The concerned Army unit that carried Filed Firing Practices in and around Tosamidan is to be held accountable for deaths and severe injuries to local residents. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, while responding to PDP leader Naeem Akhtar, who is the present Education Minister, informed the J&K Legislative Council that neither compensation nor any jobs have been provided to the families of deceased and injured persons due to artillery exercises. Under section 5 of the Manoeuvres Field Firing & Artillery Practice Act 1938 (MAFFAP Act), the monetary compensation has to be paid from the Defense Estimates for any damage caused to person or property. Section 5 of MAFFAP Act reads as: "Where a notification issued under section 2 authorizes the execution of military manoeuvres and the compensation shall be payable from the Defence Estimates for any damage to person or property or interference with rights or privileges arising from such maneuvers including expenses reasonably incurred in protecting person, property, rights and privileges".
From last more than 2 ½ years Riyaz is in search of justice. A case under Murder (Section 302 RPC) and Attempt to murder (Section 307 RPC) is registered against the "unknown" accused vide FIR No: 27/2014 in Police Station Khag district Budgam , but no arrests have been made in this regard till date . Riyaz, who is a mason, has been going from one government office to another from last 2 years, but all in vain.
"Except one Dr SamiullahWani Physiotherapist who runs an NGO Hope Disability Centre in Ganderbal nobody came to my help. The NGO provided my son Fayaz artificial limbs. I am also thankful to Dr Ayaz Nazki sahib who provided me some monetary help. Many leaders came to my house for condolence when Simran died. They assured me of all possible help from government side but all that proved to be a hoax," says Riyaz.
From the last two years Riyaz Ahmad Parray is putting up in Srinagar's Batamaloo area. He has admitted his amputee son Fayaz in a local low budget English medium school. Riyaz wants his six year old son Fayaz to get good education. Being a mason, Riyaz is not able to make his both ends meet. Some of my friends are in touch with few good private schools in Srinagar who may admit Fayaz and his 11-year-old brother. Government neither paid any compensation to the victim family nor has any government job has been provided under SRO 43. The accused have also not been tried in the court of law. We hope Tosamaidan meadow along with all the villages are cleared from all the live shells so that there are no more casualties in the area. National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its recent decision issued in August has directed Army and J&K government to ensure all the live shells are destroyed, but this order has not been implemented till date by authorities.